Sunday, October 7, 2007

New York Times unusually positive about Blackwater owner

Not all New York Times coverage of the Blackwater controversy has been hopelessly skewed. In a profile of Blackwater CEO Erik Prince, James Risen strikes a rather balanced tone that has been atypical of the Times' general reporting on the company. Here's how Risen begins in his piece published October 8:

"Erik D. Prince, the crew-cut, square-jawed founder of Blackwater USA, the security contractor now at the center of a political storm in both Washington and Baghdad, is a man seemingly born to play a leading role in the private sector side of the war efforts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"He is both a former member of the Navy Seals and the scion of a fabulously wealthy, deeply religious family that is enmeshed in Republican Party politics. As a result, the 38-year-old Mr. Prince stands at the nexus between American Special Operations, which has played such a critical role in the war operations, and the nation’s political and business elite, who have won enormous government contracts as war operations have increasingly been outsourced. . . .

"Unlike many other young men who inherit great wealth, Mr. Prince also struck out on his own and joined the Navy Seals at a time when few other men of his economic class were willing to serve in the military. After his father died and left him a fortune, Mr. Prince’s experience in Special Operations led him to found Blackwater, and he has made a point of hiring other former members of the Navy Seals, including some who now play prominent management roles.

"But now that Blackwater is under scrutiny for its involvement in the Sept. 16 shootings of as many as 17 Iraqis in downtown Baghdad, some critics are questioning whether Mr. Prince’s political connections have propelled the company’s sudden
rise." (Risen then quotes from a Blackwater critic from The Nation, who praises Prince for his military vision but faults him for his politics.)

"Yet supporters say the image of Mr. Prince as a Republican carpetbagger and war profiteer is nothing more than an inaccurate cartoon. 'Republican connections have nothing to do with Blackwater,' said Chris Taylor, a former Blackwater vice president.

"'In the senior positions at Blackwater, there are Democrats,' he added. 'If Erik is a conservative, I never heard anybody say that you have to be a conservative to be here. People need to know just how exceptional a guy he is. He’s very generous, and greatly respected in the company.'"

Robert Young Pelton, a Blackwater critic who is one of the few to have interviewed Prince at length, says "it would be wrong to assume that Mr. Prince’s political
connections account for his success," in Risen's words.

"'It is a mistake to characterize him as his father, or by the right-wing groups his father supported,' Mr. Pelton said. 'Politically, I think he is more of a libertarian. He hates government sloth, even as his company gets most of its business from the government.'"

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